Trump: Does anyone believe this California recall election isn't rigged?

AP Photo/Jason Behnken

The leader of the Democratic Party is on the ground today in California, urging his voters to turn out for the Democrat in tomorrow’s recall election.

The leader of the Republican Party is cranking out statements like this seemingly aimed at convincing his own voters that it’s not worth voting.

You would think he’d at least wait to see if Larry Elder loses before he starts screaming “fraud” in bad faith. Consider this a reminder, though, that Trump’s “stop the steal” campaign last fall didn’t happen spontaneously after the election based on irregularities that weren’t known until election night. He had planned beforehand to claim that he’d been cheated. “Stop the steal” was never about stopping an actual steal, it was about saving face if he lost legitimately.

Same here with Elder. A Democrat winning in California over a firebrand conservative is dog-bites-man stuff but Trump can’t resist an opportunity to delegitimize a Republican defeat — preemptively in this case. We really have reached the stage where populist GOP candidates will be obliged to claim fraud after losing any election to preserve the illusion that populist Republicans are the people’s choice and unbeatable at the polls. Even in California.

Elder understands what’s required of him as a populist:

I’ll say again here what I said last week, that if Trump succeeds in suppressing GOP turnout with statements like this it actually strengthens his “we wuz cheated” racket. The more Republicans underperform expectations because they’ve been convinced that the vote is rigged and therefore don’t bother to vote, the more “suspicious” the results will look. If Newsom overperforms his polling by 10 points, say, that implausible outcome will be treated as “proof” that fraud must have occurred. Not a bad result for Trump! But a terrible one for Republicans, whose populist voters are being gradually convinced that only a sucker would bother voting in America’s crooked elections.

I wonder if there are diminishing returns to Trump’s “stop the steal” shtick, though. There must be some voters out there who are open to the possibility that he was cheated last fall but who’ll scratch their heads upon seeing him scream about vote-rigging over a Democrat winning an election in California. “So he’s just going to claim fraud every time, irrespective of the circumstances?” they’ll think. If Trump is intent on throwing a tantrum every time his team loses, it’ll become clearer that he’s crying “fraud” in bad faith, as a strategic matter rather than on the merits. Which may lead some to reassess their suspicions about 2020. He wasn’t claiming that the election was stolen because he had evidence, they may conclude, he was claiming it because that’s just what sore losers do.

He had a big weekend, by the way. He spent the evening of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 as a ringside commentator for 58-year-old Evander Holyfield’s embarrassing comeback fight. Then he turned up in a video statement at some Moonie event:

Then he claimed in an interview that the election would be decertified. His election, to be clear, not California’s:

President Donald Trump just dropped bombshell news on the matter of election integrity by predicting that officials will “decertify” the 2020 presidential election.

Discussing consequences for the “rigged” election, Trump told Jim Hoft, founder of The Gateway Pundit, during a Friday afternoon interview, “I do believe they are going to decertify the election.”

“They know it was rigged,” he added after a week of damning reports alleging vast voter irregularities in Maricopa County.

The idea that he might be reinstated as president is so far out that even Marjorie Taylor Greene has downplayed it. It’s so far out that when Times reporter Maggie Haberman claimed in April that Trump had raised the subject privately with confidantes, some righties indignantly accused her of smearing the former president. No one’s that crazy, they insisted!

It turns out someone is.

And that someone remains the unquestioned leader of the GOP. CNN asked Republicans and Republican leaners whether the twice-impeached former guy who’s now preemptively claiming California’s election tomorrow is corrupt should remain the leader of the party and got a 63/37 split in favor. Although this result is interesting: “51% say that Republicans have a better chance of retaking the presidency if Trump is the nominee, with 49% saying the party would be better off with a different nominee. That’s a very different landscape from 2019, when more than three-quarters of Republicans said their party had a better shot in 2020 with Trump as their nominee than they would with a different candidate.”

I can’t tell anymore if Trump detaching himself further from reality will hurt his standing with Republicans or improve it. You might think the party would look at the weekend he just had and think, “Uh, maybe DeSantis in 2024,” but I don’t know. It could be that Trump further solidified his support with the “decertification” talk.

I’ll leave you with this exchange from ABC yesterday about Chris Christie’s unimpressive crisis of conscience over Trump’s influence on the party.